San francisco restaurants

Cocktails now take top spot in San Francisco restaurants

The combination of cocktails and food is not a new concept for Ryan Fitzgerald and the bar team ABV. Fitzgerald has served the two together for 18 years, having previously run bar-restaurants in Beretta, Foreign Cinema, Tres Agaves and Bacar. But this year, as managing partner at ABV, he and the other co-owners are trying something new: presenting an orchestrated meal of drinks and paired dishes in their upstairs enclave.

“The closest word I can think of is omakaseFitzgerald told Eater SF, referring to the Japanese tradition of letting the chef decide the dishes for you. “We serve people the kind of food and cocktails we like.”

And ABV isn’t alone – a growing number of bars are venturing into set cocktail menus paired with food. Other programs include Roka Akor‘s in the financial district, which offers its own version of a cocktail omakase with a selection of bites, as well as the bar manager Lazy Bear Nicholas Torres‘ and chef/owner David BarzelayThe next partner project of: A restaurant that favors cocktails with food pairing with the drinks, rather than the other way around.

The result of this beverage boom is a range of new guided cocktail and food experiences in San Francisco that take the cocktail experience one step further.

“This is the first time this has happened in history, really,” says Tim Hagney, manager of Maven’s bar, which was one of the first spots in 2011 to pair cocktails with specific dishes. “There is more and more dialogue between the guests, and the more that happens, it becomes a guided experience. If we can do it ahead of time and say, ‘Here’s a ticket for the ride, come on board’, that makes a lot of sense.”

It’s not just a San Francisco thing

The growing trend in San Francisco is consistent with what is happening nationally and internationally. In 2012, the James Beard Awards first introduced their “Outstanding Bar Program” category, which was later awarded to Chicago’s The Aviary, owned by chef Alinea Grant Achatz and partner Nick Kokonas. The category’s addition proved to be an early signal of the popular convergence of food and cocktails, according to VSjolly merganser, former head bartender and director of beverages at The Aviary, and co-founder of Crafthouse Cocktails. The Aviary, in particular, has changed the industry in its approach to the kitchen line for exquisite cocktails and for its program that pairs drinks with dishes from the Next pay restaurant.

Thus, global convergence seems to be increasing. Over the fall and winter, Joly conducted an informal survey of bartenders at cocktail trainings he runs around the world, to gauge how many work in venues that serve both food and drinks. cocktails. It’s “almost always north of 75%, and often higher,” says Joly.

“The centuries-old, symbiotic relationship between the bar and the kitchen is finally out in the open,” says Joly. “As more and more bartenders began to understand flavors and develop their own palates and techniques, food and cocktails inevitably became mainstream.”

California’s beautiful produce is part of the appeal for kitchens and bars

CocoBang by Nicolas Torres
sloth bear

Locally, growing mainstream interest in craft cocktails has encouraged many bartenders to pursue programs that bring food and drink together. This was an integral part of the ABV concept from the very beginning. It also offers another avenue for the bar to join in with California cuisine’s abundance of local ingredients.

“At Lazy Bear, we celebrate the richness of Californian produce and the wonderful farmers who grow these beautiful crops that drive our plates and our drinks,” says Torres. “The new project will do the same – it’s just that the drinks will have more of a presence with some badass food to go with it.”

The inevitable rise of low-alcohol cocktails

Traditionally, food and cocktails did not often overlap, starting with pre-prohibition and prohibition, the birthplace of the modern cocktail, which did not encompass food. Additionally, the high alcohol content of many of these classic drinks easily washed away the nuanced flavors of many dishes – meaning cocktails made a great pre- or post-dinner drink, but wine always paired best with food. .

“I don’t think cocktail pairings will ever replace or taste as good with food as wine does,” Torres says. “That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, and it’s true that more people are doing it. [But] the culinary influence in the cocktail world has naturally placed the cocktail in the middle of the meal, and not just at the beginning and the end.”

Food and drink from Over Proof

Food and drink from Over Proof
Photograph by Wes Rowe

Add to that a growing taste for softer, less alcoholic beverages — often called low ABV (alcohol by volume) drinks — and mixing cocktails with dinner just got a whole lot easier. It also allows for a wider range of flavors to be presented since people can try more drinks without getting drunk along the way. (Unsurprisingly, an eight-course wine pairing dinner ends very differently from an eight-cocktail situation.)

“It helps us stagger the flow of the evening, as well as not knocking people out right away,” says Alex Riddle, curator of cocktails at Roka Akor. “This allows cocktails to move in the same way as traditional dishes.”

The economic benefit for restaurants

Of course, there are also logistical and economic fundamentals: it is very difficult to open an establishment that only sells alcohol these days. San Francisco limits the number of liquor-only licenses available, making it difficult to acquire them, especially compared to the days when craft cocktails were only gaining popularity.

Full food and alcohol licenses are slightly more available, but still tricky. They are extremely expensive to secure and cost $250,000. And food is widely seen as a loss leader in the restaurant industry, a dynamic compounded by high labor costs in an expensive city and a widely reported shrinking kitchen workforce. , says Fitzgerald. Focusing on cocktails includes the added bonus of more profits.

How’s it going

ABV’s program takes you through a six-glass rum journey alongside dishes like spam musubi, smoked lamb curry and stuffed clams from notable rum regions. Last year, Roka Akor expanded its omakase from five to seven frequently rotating drinks with the addition of food pairings – such as sake and plum wine cocktail with amberjack, flavored sake and yuzu sour vodka with nigiri , and a stirred whiskey drink with steak, corn robata and Brussels sprouts. Torres and Barzelay’s widely reported new cocktail and food business is still in development, but promises to be unique.

It all makes for a perfect cocktail storm in San Francisco in 2017, and the new options are creative and compelling. Growing customer enthusiasm makes the attempt to make food and spirits together seem doable and satisfying – if executed well.

“It’s about sharing what we like and love with the guests,” says Fitzgerald.

Publishers: Stefanie Tuder and Ellen Strong

801 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, CA 94133